Norbert Friedman

Born in Poland in 1922, Norbert Friedman grew up in a working-class family in Krakow. His father, Josef, was a kosher butcher, and his mother, Gusta, took care of Friedman and his younger brother. In 1935, Poland passed anti-Jewish laws, including education quotas and a ban on ritual slaughter. Friedman was barred from entering engineering school, and his father was forced to work on the black market.

Life became much worse for Friedman after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and eventually discovered his father’s secret butchering business. The family hid in the town of Wielopole until 1941 when the Nazis announced that women, children, and the elderly would be spared “resettlement” if the men volunteered to serve in labor camps. Friedman and his father volunteered and were transported to Mielec labor camp, where they were forced to work in an airplane factory. Friedman’s mother and younger brother were exterminated a few months later. For the next four years, Friedman moved from one camp to another and was imprisoned in eleven camps by the end of the war.

After liberation he worked as a translator for the U.S. Army and finished college in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1950 Friedman immigrated to the United States, initially settling in Atlanta. With the goal of becoming a journalist he applied for a job at the Atlanta Journal, but the personnel director told him he had little chance of advancement because he was Jewish. Friedman resettled in New Jersey and started a machine shop. After his retirement Friedman began writing about his experiences in the Holocaust. He published his memoir, Sunrays at Midnight, in 2006. Today, he lives with his son’s family in Sandy Springs, Georgia and continues to write.

Growing up in Krakow

"I was born on December 20, 1922 in the city of Krakow, Poland. My house was a house of [an] observant family. My father was a kosher butcher. The laws of the Bible were observed strictly... I always wore a head covering. I attended the Jewish…

Anti-Jewish Laws in Poland

"As I told you, my father was a kosher butcher… In 1936, after the death of the Polish Marshal Pilsudski, who was the de facto leader of the Polish government who tried to enforce laws protecting the minority-- after his death in 1936, the…

Outbreak of War

"When the war broke out, I was... working in Krakow living with my aunt. And on September 1st, the German Stuka planes, the fighter planes, bombed a Polish barracks, army barracks, across the street from where I was staying with my aunt.…

Fleeing Krakow

"Well, we stayed in Krakow from the outbreak of the war. We stayed with our aunt in my grandparents’ apartment. And in 1940, when the rumors started that the ghetto [is going to be created] in Krakow. We --since we were not citizens of Krakow…

Continuing to Flee

"And there in 1941, we learned that they’re gonna create a ghetto in Tarnow. So we left... the town of Tarnow, and went to a smaller community called Zawichost. And from there we had to leave because my father was caught butchering, and there…

Hiding from the Police

"The person that informed on him was a chimney sweep, okay, who had access to all the houses, who knew what was going on. And he informed to the German authorities that he was slaughtering meat. That punishment was death. We ran away. We had…

Mielec Labor Camp

"On the night of June 15, 1942, they surrounded the village... And they set up megaphones, and they made an announcement. If the able bodied man will volunteer to go [to a] labor camp, the women, children, and elderly will be spared deportation. So…

Mielec Concentration Camp

"I have a tattoo on my forearm. There were only two camps where they tattooed. One is very well known, the camp of Auschwitz, where they put the serial number on the left forearm. And the other one was the camp that we were. We were a satellite…

Wieliczka

"We were there for two years in one camp. In the consequent year, we went to ten difference camps. And we wondered, why were moved from one camp to another? So, we did some research and it turned out, out of the ten camps that we were in, there…

Flossenburg

"Out of those ten camps, there were no two camps the same. Each one was different depending who the German commandant of the camp was. The first thing when you came to a camp you tried to find out, who were the interior authorities that ran the…

Leitmeritz

"You know, how you survive is the most frequently asked questions by my audiences when I speak to schools or-. Okay? I wrestled with that, you know, with that question myself. Was it the divine intervention? Was it-? I came to the conclusion…

Dachau

"We came to Dachau on October 23rd, 1944. So you know that historically the war was well advanced, okay? At no time, during the whole time, of all the camps we were in, were we ever bombed... But we felt the fact that they didn’t bomb where we…

Augsburg

"Once we came to Germany, we were stripped from everything that we owned. Once we came to Germany, we were given for the first time the striped pajama-like uniforms, okay? We had a shirt underneath. We had a dish, a metal dish, on our rump. And…

Horgau

"It was just sheer luck. But in order to get to the point of sheer luck and in order to survive to that particular point, you needed besides physical support, you needed what I would call spiritual and emotional and intellectual support. And…

Leonberg

Editor's Note: After Friedman left Horgau, he went to Leonberg where he worked in another airplane factory. There, he made cigarette boxes from aluminum scraps for a time, at the request of his German supervisor, in exchange for extra rations.…

Kaufering

"The second thing checked out: what kind of food do they give you. When and how much. And of course, you’re sleeping accommodations, etc. And what labor, what kind of work, you know, was least exposed to physical, you know, punishment, etc. So…

Natzweiler

Editor's Note: At Natzweiler, Friedman encountered French prisoners for the first time. As a weekly "treat," the inmates were issued jellied snails on Sundays. Friedman, and some other inmates not familiar with this food item, would…

Ganacker

"There was a road leading to the liberation. The last camp that we were in was finally bombed by the P-51 Mustangs on the 16th... of April. On the 23rd of April, that camp was closed. And we were put on what was later known as the Ganacker death…

Liberation

"So we were sitting there, we started [to] crazily dance. First of all we were shocked. We were free. It was over. The nightmare was over. And we couldn’t react to it. One of them, all of a sudden dancing and jumping up and down in the hay. We…

Working for the U.S. Army

"So a few weeks later when we were in town, this fella tells me, 'Hey, I saw your buddy Oskar.' I say, 'What are you talking about?' 'I know, I know, they stationed in the school over there.' So I run over to that…

Studying in Frankfurt

"So we applied to go to the United States. When the captain found out, he said, 'Look, I can’t give you anything that’d be more valuable for you, more precious for you when you go to America than education.' He said get some…

Arriving in America

"I came to United States in June 1950. We arrived in New Orleans on Sunday, I think it was the 4th of June. We couldn’t debark on Sunday. We debarked on Monday. Monday night I was put on a-. What do you call it? Redeye train from New Orleans…

Starting Out in Atlanta

"H-I-A-S, which is the Hebrew Immigration Aide Society, used to help immigrants that come to the United States to acclimate themselves. [They] provided the bonding for us to come to America to guarantee that we will not become charge of the…

Seeking Work as a Journalist

"So I went looking for a job. The first job that I applied for was a, the job of my dreams – to be a journalist... We didn’t have journalists and faculty in my university, but I took the subjects that were closest to that particular discipline.…

Marriage and Family

"When I went up north, through the efforts of a cousin of mine, she introduced me to a young lady whom I fell in love with. And I got married in 1955. We lived in New Jersey."

Speaking to Children

"In 1968, I think, we moved to Long Island. I had friends in the survivors’ community. We used to get together. Why? Because we knew each other. We didn’t need to tell each other what we went through. We just, through a word, a name, a…

Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City

"In 1996, I joined the fledgling museum in New York, the Jewish Heritage museum, the living memorial to the Holocaust, which opened up in 1997. And there, you know, there was a forum for speaking and sharing your experiences. We had thousands of…

Speaking to Soldiers

I was asked to speak at Fort Gillem recently, and when I came to Fort Gillem, the base commandant asked to speak to me. So I went to see General Wagner and General Jujitsky [spelling], who happened to be both of Polish Heritage, and they told me what…
Watch Norbert Friedman's Legacy Series videos here.